US Navy officers face ship-collision homicide charges

Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions last year in the Pacific Ocean face courts-martial and military criminal charges including negligent homicide.
The damage caused to the USS John S. McCain led to the deaths of 10 sailors in August. The destroyer's Commander Alfredo Sanchez (above) faces charges including negligent homicide.
The damage caused to the USS John S. McCain led to the deaths of 10 sailors in August. The destroyer's Commander Alfredo Sanchez faces charges including negligent homicide.PHOTO: ST FILE
The damage caused to the USS John S. McCain led to the deaths of 10 sailors in August. The destroyer's Commander Alfredo Sanchez (above) faces charges including negligent homicide.
The damage caused to the USS John S. McCain led to the deaths of 10 sailors in August. The destroyer's Commander Alfredo Sanchez (above) faces charges including negligent homicide.PHOTO: REUTERS

Courts-martial part of bid to fix problems that led to fatal accidents near Singapore, Japan

WASHINGTON • The commanding officers of two United States Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions last year in the Pacific Ocean face courts-martial and military criminal charges including negligent homicide, the US Navy said in a statement.

Filing charges against the officers marks the Navy's latest effort to address the problems that led to collisions involving its warships in Asia, in which 17 sailors were killed.

The Navy has already dismissed several senior officers, including the commander of the Seventh Fleet, as a result of the collisions.

Evidence supporting the charges against the commanders and several lower-ranking officers who served on the ships will be reviewed soon in investigative hearings, according to the Navy's statement on Tuesday.

"The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offences," the statement added.

Commander Alfredo Sanchez, the commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer, which collided with a merchant ship near Singapore in August, faces charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the statement said.

Commander Bryce Benson and three other officers on the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer, which collided with a Philippine container ship in June, face charges including dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the Navy said.

Benson and Sanchez, along with their second-in-commands, were relieved of their duties following the collisions.

Beyond the courts-martial, the Navy said, it is conducting additional administrative actions for members of both crews, including non-judicial punishment for four crew members of each vessel.

In November, the Navy released collision reports which covered the June 17 episode between the Fitzgerald and a commercial ship that killed seven sailors off Japan, and the Aug 21 collision between the John S. McCain and another commercial vessel, the Alnic MC, that left 10 dead as the destroyer approached Singapore.

The Navy concluded that both collisions resulted from a chain of errors, missed warnings and poor training but determined that no single person could be blamed for the accidents.

"The collisions were avoidable," Admiral John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in a summary of the reports, released in November.

Admiral Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer are set to appear in front of two subcommittees of the House Armed Services today, focusing extensively on naval operations.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'US Navy officers face ship-collision homicide charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe